Question: "Help me stop my jumping jack cat!"
Mai shares her Dublin home with six-month-old brother/sister cats Casper and Flossy, who are best of friends. "Casper is very attention-seeking and meows a lot," says Mai. "Flossy is a lot calmer and is very sweet-natured and just plays with her toys and eats and sleeps and is very mild-mannered. Casper can be highly destructive by breaking and tearing things, but also can be the sweetest and most adorable cat when I pet him and rub him.
The problem? "Casper jumps up on my bedroom door handle every morning, anytime between 5-8:00 a.m.," says Mai. She first noticed the behavior after the cats were left alone overnight two weeks ago. "Casper's constant jumping on the door handle wears the handle away and scratches the door. I don't know what to do and feel like tearing my hair out! I have only just bought the apartment and it is brand new.
"I have shouted at him and separated him from Flossy. And I do feel guilty when I shout at him and he probably does not understand why I am mad. I generally do not want to be around him when I am mad at him. Does he need more attention? What can I do, or will he grow out of this behaviour?
What a smart kitty! You may not like my answer but actually Casper has connected-the-dots to a feline problem that stumps many other fur-kids: the secret to opening that door! Of course, with behavior complaints I like to use the H.I.S.S. Test, which stands for health, instinct, stress, and symptom solvers, to figure out the cause so we can find a solution.
A change in energy levels, including nonstop running around and meowing, can be a sign of health issues such as hyperthyroidism particularly in older cats. But at six months of age, Casper technically is still a baby. Kittens have no off-switch and his behavior actually is more typical of adolescence than Flossy's laid back demeanor.
Cats instinctively seek high locations to sleep, perch and observe. Their athleticism often includes high leaps. Kittens especially indulge their curiosity to explore, paw-test objects, and discover as much as possible about their world. Leaping at a shiny door handle that also moves-and that the cat has figured out makes that barrier go away-is a natural extension of normal cat behavior.
Other than the stress Mai feels from Casper's investigations, it doesn't appear that stress is an issue in this situation.
S=Symptom, Signs & Solutions
The over-arching information provided with your question, Mai, is that Casper is only six months old. He's a baby. Kitten play is a normal part of his life. I suspect that if you'd adopted him alone, rather than with his sister (who can be a play buddy), you might have even more frustrating issues with play aggression. Some cats simply are more laid back than others. Your situation bears out how different cats can be, even when from the same litter.
My own cat Seren(dipity) also leaped at door handles when younger. This was my own fault, because I'd hung a crocheted Christmas ornament on the lever handle that swung and tempted paws. Within three or four leaps and grapples, Seren learned she could hang on the lever handle and open the door! Thereafter, it was difficult to confine her in one room.
In your situation, however, it appears that Casper has learned that leaping at the door and scratching gets him what he most wants out of life-you awake, and paying attention to him. Being ignored (when you sleep) must be incredibly frustrating to a wide-awake kitten who wants to play and be fed and cuddled. Even shouting at him rewards the behavior so he'll do it again and again. Just like a human child who acts up, even bad attention is better than being ignored.
Casper uses this jumping up in the same way other cats use wake-up meows to get owners out of the bed. To cure this, you actually will have to ignore the behavior. The behavior will get worse, before it gets better so be prepared to tough it out. If you give in even once, that rewards Casper and teaches him that the longer he pesters, the better his success rate. I often recommend owners invest in ear plugs to help with the ignoring.
To protect your door handles, maybe child safety devices might help. It may also help to place clear plastic carpet runners (nub side up!) in front of the doors when you go to sleep so he can't get close enough to practice his jumping jack routine.